This is the seventh in a series of ‘dueling cblog editorials’ I will be doing with CaffeinePowered
You can check out his opinion on today’s topic HERE
. If you’ve missed any of the previous Point & Counterpoints, you can access them through the links in my profile on your right.
This is coming a bit early because I'm leaving for New York tomorrow and won't be back until Sunday. Enjoy this early edition of Point & Counterpoint!
As any good gamer knows, the Zelda franchise has consistently been among the best in the industry, with pretty much every game (aside from the CD-I ones) being a masterpiece. Typically people point to Ocarina or LttP as being their favorite, but today I want to discuss the Zelda game that I think often goes overlooked but is the best in the series. Certainly, all of the other Zelda games are absolutely fantastic, but my favorite one of them all has to be Link’s Awakening for the original Gameboy.
Today’s Topic: Best Zelda Game – Link to the Past vs. Link’s Awakening
I want to reiterate before I begin that I also think Link to the Past is an epically good game. However, Link’s Awakening brought many new ideas and concepts to the series, many of which still survive to this day. Awakening was a stark departure from all of the Zelda games before it, and paved the way for the unique legacy of the handheld Zelda’s.
A New Zelda Story and New Friends
Up until the release of Awakening, the Zelda story had gotten fairly formulaic. Zelda’s in trouble, Link fights Gannon and/or his followers, wins the triforce, and saves Zelda. Zelda 2 tried to mix up for the formula a little bit, with having the end boss be Dark Link instead of Gannon, but the majority of the story was the same, and the stark departure from the original gameplay was off putting to many gamers. With Link’s Awakening, Nintendo took a completely different turn. For the first time there was a new setting, a new villain, new characters, and a new quest. This change of pace was refreshing, and helped set the standard for many Zelda games to come.
In Link’s Awakening, you play a shipwrecked Link who washes up on the shores of Koholint Island, a location never before mentioned in the world of Zelda and far away from the familiar Hyrule. After being taken in by Marin and Tarin, Link learns that he must find the 8 Instruments of the Sirens in order to wake the island’s guardian, the mysterious Wind Fish, who lives in an egg at the top of Tal Tal Mountain. The new characters introduced are incredibly memorable, from Marin and her animal friends to stuck up Madame MeowMeow and her chain chomp pet to the Owl who would later return in later Zelda games, the new cast added fresh characters with personality into the world of Zelda. Up until this point, if any new characters were introduced, they were minor and typically were just random villagers, or ended up dying very quickly. In Awakening, the new cast would regularly send you on quests, and often be your ticket into unlocking new dungeons or getting critical items. However, the story and the characters weren’t the only other new aspect that were introduced.
New Gameplay Mechanics
In addition to changing the story of Zelda, Link’s Awakening also introduced a number of awesome gameplay mechanics that still remain with the series today. In the original Zelda and Link to the Past, there wasn’t really an emphasis on items. Sure, you picked up some neat stuff here and there, but for the most part they were only used once or twice in critical situations and then forgotten about. Awakening made the items you collected much more important, and made a large majority of them useful enough that you found yourself regularly using them. Additionally, the ability to equip whatever items you wanted in each hand (and the choice of not using the sword) gave you the freedom to mix and match your items, with awesome combinations like Roc’s Feather with the Pegasus Boots, or the ever-popular bomb arrows.
In particular, the ability to jump with Roc’s Feather dramatically changed the way Zelda was played. Instead of being stuck on the ground (or water) the whole time, the new Zelda added some neat platforming aspects. The ability to jump not only made it easier to move around in the overworld and dungeons (in addition to adding some fun puzzles), Nintendo was also able to add a few Mario-esque side-view areas. While they even used enemies from Mario (Goombas, Bloopers, and Piranha Plants), these areas never felt unnecessarily tacked on or out of place.
Additionally, the introduction of Roc’s Feather and a few of the other items gave Awakening a bit more of a Metroidvania feel. While some people might not like that, I fully support it. In the first Zelda, you could for the most part go anywhere at any time without restriction (except for a small portion of the map you needed the ladder or the raft to access). Link to the Past was a bit better, but there were still relatively few items you needed to get around the world, and once you completed an area there was typically little reason to ever return to it. Awakening however, taunted you with areas just out of reach and encouraged you to go back and re-explore large chunks of the map to see what you could now access that you had been unable to earlier on.
Item Trading and the Secret Seashells
One of the reasons you WANTED to go back an re-explore the map were because of the two new systems introduced; the item trading sequence and the secret seashells. The item trading sequence, which is now a staple of the Zelda games, was particularly interesting because what you had to do to acquire the items you needed often gave you a good insight into the other characters in the game, and helped to flesh out the side characters. You find out that Mr. Wright is into bestiality and in love with a goat woman; you discover that Papahl is totally useless adventurer, you uncover that Kiki the monkey from Link to the Past has somehow made it onto the island. Besides being a fun yet necessary distraction from the main gameplay, the item trading sequence serves as a plot device of sorts that helps you to open up new areas of the game, as well as obtain information and background on the colorful members of Koholint.
The secret seashells were another addition to Awakening. A totally optional sidequest, they were the way you unlocked the more powerful Level 2 sword. Hidden all over the island were 25 seashells; if you collected 20 of them you could swap them for your new sword. Some were easy to find, some were fiendishly difficult, and the system itself provided a great incentive for you to explore and collect them all, especially if it was your first playthrough and you were unaware what the prize would be from the mysterious Seashell Shrine. These two mechanics, in addition to being a lot of fun, helped to elevate Link’s Awakening to a game that you wanted to keep playing until you had found everything you could.
In case you didn’t notice from the goat bestiality reference earlier, Link’s Awakening is packed with all sorts of offbeat humor. One of the better parts of the game is the fact that you can steal from the shopkeeper if you can trick him into looking away from you. Beware though, if you are foolish enough to return to the scene of the crime, you’ll face the most dangerous enemy in the game – the pissed off store owner. Additionally, if you steal from the shop, the other characters in the game will react and be pissed off at you for the rest of the game. This is one of the earliest games where your actions have a direct effect on your reputation, and while crude, forces you to think about the consequences of your behavior.
Additionally, there are all sorts of references to other, older Nintendo games, with the aforementioned classic Mario enemies making an appearance, Prince Richard from the Japanese-only Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru
and Mr. (Dr.) Wright (Write) from the Sim City games showing up, and even Princess Peach makes an appearance in the form of spank bank material possessed by the pervy zoophile Mr. Wright. There’s also numerous instances where the 4th wall is broken and the player is addressed directly, typically in a humorous manner. While previous Zelda games had brief moments of humor, Link’s Awakening took it much further and created a much funnier gaming experience than any Zelda had done before.
This Game Rocks
I know I’m in the minority opinion on this, but I think that Link’s Awakening gets seriously overlooked just because of the Gameboy graphics it had. Ocarina and LttP certainly are great games, but I just keep coming back to Awakening as my favorite of all time. From the jokes to the new gameplay systems to the fantastic story to the music (which I could have written a whole section on but I ran out of time...DAMN YOU EARLY PLANE FLIGHT!), Link’s Awakening is a classic Zelda experience that served as a breath of fresh air for the series while still remaining true to its classic roots and holds the place as my favorite Zelda of all time.
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